NieR: Automata Ver 1.1a (Japan 2023)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 9/4/23
Cast: Yui Ishikawa, Natsuki Hanae

Twelve episodes

This anime adaptation of Yoko Taro's "NieR: Automata" (2017) does a good job of hitting the highlights in the Adam and Eve conflict, although it radically diverges from the original story on several occasions. While it ends on a somewhat happy note, a second series is already in the works to ensure that victory is fleeting and peace is only temporary. Thousands of years ago, aliens came to Earth and nearly drove the human race to extinction. An endless proxy war of attrition rages on between the humans' android forces and the aliens' machine lifeforms, and the story revolves around combat android 2B (Yui Ishikawa) and her scanner android partner 9S (Natsuki Hanae). What starts as a simple recon mission quickly turns into much more, as 2B and 9S discover that the enemy's machine lifeforms have evolved into sentient beings with more human traits than the androids themselves. Even though they were built for war, 2B and 9S realize too late that they're simply pawns in a much larger game of politics and deception.

The animation looks good for the most part, and the combination of 3D models and traditional 2D characters works out pretty well. Combat is hyper kinetic and 2B takes out enemies with effortless skill, precision, and flair. The characters look good, except that their mouths often look strange because they don't have upper lips. The voice acting is superb, and it's great to have Yui Ishikawa and Natsuki Hanae reprise their roles from the original game. The series also uses music from the game to great effect, and hearing those familiar themes often brought tears to my eyes. They even pull in some continuity from the original "NieR" when 9S dives into Emil's head. The show's largest deviation from the original story is that Lily replaces Anemone as the leader of the resistance, who survived the doomed "Pearl Harbor Descent Record" side story. An entire episode is devoted to summarizing that gut-wrenching adventure. Another side story I was happy to see was about a machine lifeform who discovered a love of flowers. As with most of Yoko Taro's work, the story is grim, bleak, and depressing, but highlighted by moments of profound beauty and serenity.

As if to break up the heavy tone of hopelessness and despair, each episode ends with a humorous puppet show that attempts to explain (and poke fun at) the game's numerous alternate endings. These segments are reminiscent of "Tachikomatic Days" from "Ghost In The Shell: Standalone Complex" (2003), which help flesh out the world and the lore in a cute and funny way. Everything is done tongue in cheek, and they always end in catastrophe.

More than anything, I appreciated the series as a way to revisit the game without having to put in the effort to play it again. Especially since I was never good at it and wasn't even able to finish it. The series suffered from numerous Covid-related production delays, but the quality remains consistent throughout. Hopefully the second season will maintain the same level of excellence. The series was released exclusively on Crunchyroll in the US, but I'm hoping it will get a proper Blu-ray release. And hopefully not like the ridiculous $300 version of "Ghost In The Shell: SAC_2045" (2020).